Crowdsourcing a Digital Exhibition: An Interview with Andy Adams

lookingattheland
AndyAdams

Andy Adams is back-- this time talking crowdsourcing, digital exhibitions, and his newest project, “Looking at the Land: 21st Century American Views,” a digital exhibition of 21st Century American Landscape photography. Andy, the creator and producer of Flak Photo, continues to lead the contemporary art world in its conversation about the future of photography and now, on the potential of crowdsourced, digital exhibitions. The exhibition has already been viewed by over 10,000 visitors. If you have yet to explore it (or want another look), take a moment to view it here. Read on for Technology in Art's interview with Andy.

EQ: Andy, you crowdsourced submissions for Looking at the Land. What were your expectations? How did it feel to be completely dependent on the public for their contributions?

AA: I had images in mind that I wanted to include but I’m a big believer in looking outside my own frame of reference for new possibilities. I regularly turn to my online photo colleagues for recommendations and started this project the same way. Since the exhibition is about understanding how contemporary image-makers are using their cameras to respond to the land, it was important to open myself up to serendipity so I could be sure I was seeing as many perspectives as possible. The response was overwhelming — photographers from around the globe submitted more than 5,500 images and I learned about people and pictures I’d never seen before. When you embrace the Internet like this, wonderful things can happen.

EQ: Landscape is a very physical entity, but it is exhibited here in the virtual realm. Does this challenge the meaning of landscape or the physicality of it?

AngieSmith

AA: I don’t think so. These are representations — photographic perspectives that describe the American landscape and the way these photographers feel about it. Most of my projects involve digital technologies so the formal qualities of the ‘virtual’ are baked in from the beginning. Looking at the Land is about more than the pictures it presents; it’s about the ideas and experiences that move the people who made them. Early in the process of organizing these images, I interviewed each of the contributing photographers to understand the motivations that drove their work. I realized that these first-person accounts added new meaning to my viewing experience and should therefore accompany the pictures they inspired. We designed the website accordingly, making room to include these stories alongside the images. Some of the responses are quite lengthy; we never would have been able to include these extended conversations in a physical space. I’m interested in experimenting with the web browser as a unique exhibition venue unto itself.

EQ: How did you determine which and how many photographs to exhibit?

AA: This was a relatively arbitrary decision. I always knew the website would be the lasting home for this project but the RISD Museum of Art commissioned a video projection so most of our decisions followed from that assignment. There were few constraints — I set out to show a selection of ‘photographs depicting landscape in the United States since 2000.’ Timing and pace are crucial elements in a video projection so the running length of the final piece determined the final edit. I would have included more images if I could have but I found the restrictions comforting.

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EQ: Can you talk about the sequence and arrangement of the photographs?

AA: Sequence is always intentional but in this case, it isn’t driven by a formal narrative or pre-existing structure. This project was very much about crowdsourcing a visual definition of 21st century landscape photography and understanding how the conventions of the tradition are evolving. I’m interested in knowing why people photograph places and what compels artists to make images of the land. Are their intentions similar or different than previous generations? The sequence emphasizes the variety in the content and style of the images — balancing color, composition, and tone — so the pictures play in harmony with one another.

EQ: Viewers have the power to pause, rewind, and fast-forward the exhibition. How does this affect their experience?

AA: The advantage here is that you can literally take the exhibition home with you — so you get to browse it on your own time, at your own pace. I love seeing print exhibitions but I don’t usually get to spend more than a few hours in the room with the pictures. The hope here is that a spectator can linger as long as they like.

CoreyArnold

EQ: Have you prepared a physical exhibition before? Can you compare or connect the two experiences?

AA: From the beginning, I hoped these images would travel — across the Web and the world. Following the RISD Museum of Art projection we presented a selection of 20 images in print at the FotoWeekDC festival in Washington, D.C. That show was the first time this project was materialized with physical presence and we bridged the online/offline realms by providing a URL with each print that linked to its backstory on the website. I don’t see the two experiences as significantly different but it was extremely novel to be in the room, watching people react to the images. I forget that sometimes — how enjoyable it is to look at pictures in the presence of other people. It’s a very social experience.

EQ: Was this exhibition marketed exclusively online, to complement the medium?

AA: We did print a postcard for the FotoWeekDC show but for the most part we’ve marketed this exclusively online — using email and social media. The advantage of a group show like this is that our eighty-eight contributing photographers all do their part to support the show by promoting to their respective networks. And we designed the exhibition website so that the audience can share the photos/stories they like in their social networks. You can actually deep link to specific photographs and share them on Facebook or Twitter. People keep emailing me with requests for a Looking at the Land book — that might be interesting.

IanBaguskas

EQ: Viewing images online is often a solitary activity, as opposed to physical exhibitions which encourage social interaction. Does online viewing affect the ways in which viewers receive and consume photography?

AA: Absolutely. I worked with a talented design & development team where I live in Madison, Wisconsin and we knew from the beginning that we wanted the digital exhibition to be an intimate experience, like reading a book. I saw the photographer John Gossage speak last year and he called photography books “objects of fascination.” Elegantly designed websites are objects of fascination too. Since more of us are using touchscreen tablets to look at photography online we designed Looking at the Land so it would render beautifully on those devices. You can actually thumb through these images, taking your time, like the pages in a book. I hear lots of concerns about how the Internet diminishes our ability to really pay attention to the photographs we see online. This is our attempt to challenge that notion — to present an engaging, thoughtful photographic experience.

Connect with Andy on Facebook or Twitter if interested in collaboration, promoting a photography project on Flak Photo.com, or to simply touch base with the forward-thinking, game-changing leader of contemporary photography publishing. Always a pleasure, Andy!